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Style / Restaurants : In The Boeuf

October 15, 1995|S. IRENE VIRBILA

Now that demon red meat is right up there next to butter and salt on the illicit-substances list, steakhouses, curiously enough, are booming. And that occasional steak--well-aged, juicy, nicely marbled--seems to taste even better. Except for a green salad and some kind of potato dish, the best steakhouse strategy is to forget about sides and desserts and focus on the main attraction.

Everybody has their preference, but I will always go for any bone-in steak because the best, most flavorful meat is found closest to the bone. A nice red wine and a big, scary steak: Now that's a meal worth a few extra laps around the track. Here's my report on seven of the area's top steakhouses:

In Los Angeles, where any place 20 years old qualifies as an institution, Pacific Dining Car, open since 1921, is a legend. The narrow, wood-lined dining car, with its leather wing chairs, has sprouted more rooms over the years, providing plenty of secluded corners, which may be why it's a favorite with politicos and lawyers. Service is top-notch. And it's really the only local steakhouse with a truly super wine list. (Compiled by sommelier Ron Washam, it includes the best big reds from around the world at impressively reasonable prices.) So if you're a wine lover in the mood for steak, this is the place to indulge.

The PDC is famous for its aged, prime filet, which doesn't stint on flavor. (Surf 'n' turfers can get it with Maine lobster.) Still, my vote goes to the massive, 25-ounce T-bone, with the Delmonico (basically a bone-in New York strip) running a close second. (And for Diamond Jim Brady types, double portions are available.) All steaks here are cooked over mesquite. And while it's easy to get the tall "baseball" cut rare; other cuts, ordered rare, tend toward what I consider medium rare. Onion rings, shaved thin, dipped in buttermilk batter and wrapped in a white napkin, are splendid; the Caesar salad, merely ordinary. And should you get a hankering for red meat deep in the night, this Downtown steak haunt is open 24 hours.

Pacific Dining Car, 1310 W. 6th St., Los Angeles; (213) 483-6000. Best steak: 14-ounce prime filet $34.95, 25-ounce T-bone, $38.95. Best side: onion rings. Wine picks: Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva "Cascina Francia," 1985; Gaja Barbaresco, 1989. Also at 2700 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 453-4000.

For more than 40 years, the Taylor family, originally from Texas, has been serving up prime steaks at regular people's prices. The bar at Taylor's Steakhouse in Mid-Wilshire is filled with cops and other salty characters who saw away at hefty T-bones with their eyes riveted to the ballgame on the tube. Taylor's best steak is its top-of-the-line culotte, a beautiful hunk of meat cut from the sirloin--only two per steer, says owner Bruce Taylor. The Molly salad, named after a veteran waitress, now retired, is terrific: hearts of romaine and iceberg lettuce with diced tomato, cloaked in a light blue-cheese dressing. All steaks come with soup or salad, good baked potatoes or fries. Best deal? The smaller culotte with onion rings and fresh corn on the cob. I'd be equally happy with the sirloin rolled in cracked peppercorns or one of the great burgers, freshly ground from steak trimmings. And while that '82 Lynch Bages has all been drunk (small wonder), Taylor's list still has some older Beaulieu VineyardPrivate Reserve at very fair prices along with a few very old bottles of Cha^teau Latour and Mouton-Rothschild.

Taylor's Prime Steaks, 3361 W. 8th St., Los Angeles; (213) 382-8449. Best steak: 16-ounce culotte, $16.75 (with soup or salad, potatoes and another vegetable). Best side: Molly salad. Wine pick: Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, 1980.

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